Something of an oddity in Ken Vandermark’s stable of projects Spaceways, Incorporated spent its infancy as a cover band mining the songbooks of Funkadelic and Sun Ra. The trio’s debut Thirteen Cosmic Standards built an entertaining and artistically-enhanced hour of music from these fraternal sources, but their sophomore sojourn in the studio suggested the need for a fresh direction. Building on the same groove-seasoned stew the three channel their respective creative corpuses into the challenge of working with completely original material.
The febrile throb of dub-style bass braids with syncopated cymbals on the opening sultry slink of “Back of a Cab.” Vandermark’s velvety tenor slides and shimmies across the plush, but vaguely ominous harmonic terrain. Drake is keeps a fluid time with metronomic precision on “Reasonable Hour” as McBride, this time on acoustic strings, clocks the thematic center in a solo ripe with gravity and groove. Vandermark’s billowy baritone sounds more like Mulligan than Bluiett, sauntering along with a cool swagger that sprouts thorns in a closing joust with Drake. “Size Large” deploys along the proportions it’s name implies with a rock-solid backbeat and brusquely honking baritone phrasings. McBride’s bass line, laden with pedal effects, drops into the fray with atomic force, sending Richter shockwaves through the tune’s center and slathering his partner’s with smoldering funk. His crisply attenuated plucks during the opening minutes of “Journeyman” contrast sharply and guide the trio into darkly brooding straits.
Backbeats return in bolstered numbers on the timely “Clocked,” a dedicatory piece to Meters drummer Zigaboo Modeliste. Drake offers ample homage from behind his kit, scrolling out stick-borne licks that make a beeline for listener knees and hips. Vandermark, for one seems inspired and wails away on tenor while McBride fills the harmonic cracks with pulsing tugs from his electric axe.
“Rothko Sideways” changes up moods again, this time toward a contemplative tack with Drake sitting out until mid-piece. The groove’s still there, it’s just transmuted. With “Force at a Distance” the trio sounds more akin to one of Vandermark’s free ensembles, say DKV, than with the saxophonist pulling out the stops in an excoriating release of reed-funneled energy and breath. The dub opener comes home to roost on the closer and the three take the date out in a track steeped with ambiguity. Is there more in store? Given the group’s celestial antecedents perhaps the answer’s written in the stars.
Atavistic on the web: htttp://www.atavistic.com
Back of a Cab; Reasonable Hour; Size Large; She Just Got Here;
Clocked; Rothko Sideways; Force at a Distance; All Frequencies.
Ken Vandermark: tenor and baritone saxophone, Bb and bass clarinet;
Nate McBride: acoustic and electric bass; Hamid Drake: drums.
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